Eagle Ray Cove divemasters deploy one of the surveillance drones used to monitor scuba diving guests, allowing dive staff to work remotely to combat a surge in iguana pox cases on Blacktip Island. (photo courtesy of Eagle Ray Cove)
Due to an uptick in iguana pox cases on Blacktip Island, the small Caribbean island’s dive operations have implemented a plan for divemasters to lead and supervise dives remotely to avoid acquiring, or transmitting, the virus.
“We had so many folks getting the pox, we almost had to shut down,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “We were in a bind ‘til Alison Diesel came up with the idea of using underwater drones to keep an eye on divers from the comfort of her apartment. We also have captains driving our boats remotely from home, so there’s no direct interaction with guests at all.
“We tried using reef cameras, but after a couple of out-of-air incidents, realized we needed the mobility drones provide,” Latner said. “We can follow problem divers, block their path if they’re about to do something stupid and, as a last resort, yell at them through an underwater speaker.”
Other resorts have followed Eagle Ray Divers’ lead.
“The drone thing rocks,” Club Scuba Doo’s dive manager Finn Kiick said. “All our video game skills are totally paying off. We rigged drones with big-ass hooks so we can snag yahoos going too deep or trashing coral and drag them back to safety.
“It also means our DMs can work with zero chance of getting bent or blowing an eardrum,” Kiick said. “The only in-person work we do is filling the tanks, and we do that at night when no guests are around.”
Some dive staff, though, were not happy with the new procedures.
“Can’t really show guests cool sea critters with a drone,” Blacktip Haven divemaster Booger Bottoms said. “Tried to point out a sea slug yesterday and like to took out a whole coral head. Even talking to guests while you guide them scares the fish.
“Makes it hard to teach students, too,” Bottoms said. “‘Til this virus wave passes, we just have ‘em watch videos and hope for the best. If they’re strong, they’ll survive.”
Others worried about diver safety.
“The big worry’s there’ll be an accident we can’t really respond to,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Marina DeLow said. “You can’t supervise 20-plus divers with one drone, even a fast one. And if anybody gets hurt, all we can do is call the clinic. And, more importantly, not being on the boat in person really cuts into your tips.”
Latner said guest response to the initiative has been generally positive.
“Folks seem to like being on their own,” he said. “They also get an ego boost when they realize they have darker tans than any of our staff.”